How Liberals and Conservatives Think

The following is a video of UC Berkeley professor of cognitive science and linguistics, George Lakoff, on how successful conservative political campaigning is based on the manipulation of language, and not on public support for government programs. Their success is partly due to the fact that conservatives understand how the human mind works (and how it can be manipulated), whereas liberals do not understand this because they subscribe to a 'rational' model of human cognition.

Behind every right-wing catchy slogan, Lakoff argues, there is a set of facts that are being distorted. Conservatives even admit sometimes, surprisingly, that scientific information is against them. They have gone so far, in some cases, as to summarily dismiss what they refer to as "the reality-based community."

Nevertheless, they have succeeded. Why? Because they know how to use Orwellian language to their advantage: whenever their proposed programs could not possibly be sold to the American public at face value, they come up with catchy phrases with which no reasonable person would ever want to disagree, even if the catchy slogan stands for the very opposite of what it supposedly represents. Phrases like Tax Relief, the Clear Skies Act, No Child Left Behind, the Healthy Forest Initiative, the War on Terror, patriotism, the free market, family values, etc. are used to create a favorable emotional reaction among the public, even though the content behind the slogans is very different from what it seems to propose. Healthy, clean and safe coal plants and not healthy, clean, or safe, but it sounds nice.

Lakoff suggests that progressive liberals ought to refer to these initiatives with more literal honesty, so that the conservative hidden agenda finally becomes public and known for what it is. For instance, the Clear Skies Act, which actually allows for the growth of acceptable pollution, should probably be referred to as the Dirty Skies Act; the Healthy Forest Initiative, which allowed the destruction of forests in greater proportion, should probably be called No Tree Left Behind.

Lakoff's arguments are derived from his research on linguistics and cognitive science. He understands very well that much of what goes on in the brain takes place below the level of consciousness. Liberals, he argues, do not understand this, and this lack of understanding has represented their political doom.


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